Lebanon — January 2008

Sociopolitical situation

Political violence escalated during the second half of 2007. Explosions and car bombs resumed, targeting politicians and civilians. Assassinations claimed the lives of two pro-government ministers just days before the Lebanese Parliament was due to elect a new president. These acts raised the number of assassinated political figures to eight since the death of former Prime Minister Rafik el Hariri in 2005. In addition, a Lebanese army brigadier, who was chief of operations during a fierce 15-week battle in Nahr el Bared, was killed by a roadside bomb in December.

For most of last summer, the Lebanese Army fought Fatah-el Islam, a paramilitary extremist group, in the Nahr el Bared refugee camp, near Tripoli. The army eventually defeated the extremists, taking control of the camp on 2 September. At least 446 people died as a result of the fighting. Six UN peacekeepers were also killed there, while two were wounded in a bombing attack on the Lebanese-Israeli boarder.

Internally, the failure to elect a president has thrown Lebanon into new uncertainty. Though international figures have tried to solve the deadlock, debates surrounding the presidential nomination have been raging for months; a vote has been postponed repeatedly since 25 September for lack of a quorum. Early in December, the presidential crisis seemed to have been concluded, as the governing “March 14 coalition” announced its willingness to amend the constitution to allow the commander of the Lebanese Army, General Michel Suleiman, to assume the post. To date, Lebanon’s feuding politicians remain deadlocked.

The country’s instability has forced many Lebanese, particularly the youth, abroad. (More than 1 million, or 1 in 4 Lebanese, have left since 2006 war). Though the economy has improved slightly, the country is still in a recession for the third consecutive year. Tourism, which has taken a beating since 2005, dropped by 8 percent. The price index for food items has risen by 10.4 percent in the third quarter of 2007. Also, the dramatic increase in prices of oil in the international market has had a direct effect on the Lebanese citizen.

Religious situation

“Blessed are those who make peace” was the theme of the 17thconference of the Council of the Catholic Churches, which was held from 15-19 October in the village of Ain Treiz, located in the Chouf region, under the presidency of Patriarch Gregorios III, Patriarch of Antioch and all the East, of Alexandria and of Jerusalem, and in the presence of the Maronite Patriarch of Antioch, Cardinal Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir, the Coptic Catholic Patriarch of Alexandria, Antonios Naguib, and Armenian Catholic Patriarch Nerses Bedros XIX. Participants studied papers addressing the position and role of the region’s Christians in an increasing climate of political and religious conflict and other issues regarding the mission of the Catholic churches.

Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir chaired the 41stsession of the Council of Catholic Patriarchs and Bishops in Lebanon entitled, “The Church and Financing”; the council was held at Bkerke and attended by the Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Luigi Gatti. Council participants addressed methods of cooperation between nongovernmental and ecclesiastical institutions. The patriarch also reflected on the need for more financial resources to support the church’s expansive philanthropic works.

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